Discover more from Oliver Willis Explains
Growing Conservative Weirdness Is Bad For Liberals
The Right Is Making This Easier Than It Should Be
One of the reasons Republicans failed to create a “red wave” in the 2022 midterm elections stemmed from the party’s disconnect from the American public. While the public expressed concerns about issues like inflation and lost abortion rights, many Republican candidates, from House races to gubernatorial candidates, were instead trying to whip up frenzies around moral panics and tabloid-style stories that were replayed over and over on right-wing outlets like Fox News.
Oliver Willis Explains is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
While Democratic candidates were attacking the GOP for stacking the courts and restricting abortion, while also touting domestic spending from the Biden administration (Michigan’s Gov. Gretchen Whitmer talked about how she “fixed the damn roads” with infrastructure money), Republicans were spreading urban legends about children using litter boxes and fentanyl purportedly being dropped into Halloween baskets.
In Georgia a great example of this was Herschel Walker ranting about the use of pronouns and the differences between vampires and werewolves while Sen. Raphael Warnock discussed legislation he voted for and sponsored that has changed life in his state.
And since the election concluded and the party has had to reckon with its missed opportunity (and how conspiracies about vote counting led to conservative drop off in key races), there is no sign that the phenomenon I’m calling Growing Conservative Weirdness will stop.
This is what happens when the world of alternative media and thought that the right has built up for itself is too successful. Roger Ailes started Fox News with the idea of a weapon to spread conservatism and elect Republicans. The pathway to achieving this goal was to disguise conservatism and sneak it in with populist appeals and tv techniques like the “leg cam” to keep men watching. The point was not to follow the fringe, to put a big budget behind Alex Jones-style conspiracy theories (which themselves are rooted in the old John Birch Society of the right). Pushing those kinds of conspiracies contributed to Ailes axing Glenn Beck after he turned his anti-Obama show into a conspiratorial platform.
But now Ailes is dead and there’s no real grown-up running Fox News or the Republican Party, so everything gets weirder and weirder. Donald Trump became a political figure by parroting the weirdness of the conservative movement and lucked his way into the presidency. It was his weird behavior that allowed Joe Biden to provide such a simple contrast in the 2020 election. Biden’s relatively generic Democratic positions were an easy choice for most voters against Trump’s weird carnival act.
That’s why I think it’s bad for Democrats.
By being so weird, the right is often making Democrats the default option. Democrats can stand pat, not really testing the boundaries of what is politically possible, because the right is out there. Democrats weaponized this weirdness in the 2022 cycle, boosting weird Republican candidates (who nonetheless were ultimately chosen by Republican primary voters, to be clear) and then more often than not went on to slaughter those candidates in the general election.
This could make Democrats far too lazy and protective of the status quo. What is the sense, many Democrats could argue, in supporting progressive ideas if they can just tick the boxes and beat the weirdo? There’s no incentive to embrace an idea like Medicare for All or bail reform or universal basic income when the other guy or gal is pro-insurrection or ranting about chemtrails.
Efforts to push Democrats to be more progressive on a host of issues, therefore solving the problems that plague America and the world at large, have to keep their heads down and stick to it. Like most things, the party will favor inertia and caution, and Democrats have shown in the recent past that this is their preferred position until Republicans figure things out and become electable again.
Right now the Republican ecosystem favors Growing Conservative Weirdness over a calm elections-oriented approach. There’s a much bigger reward for pushing inane conspiracy theories over traditional conservative policy, and that is what excites the party’s voting base but often isn’t enough to win elections.
Democrats win when the best the GOP can offer is weirdness, but if the Democrats can just lean back and win elections without really trying too hard, that is bad for America too.
Exclusive Kal-El Photo
Kal has a sixth sense for deciding to seek attention just as I have started a work Zoom call.